(On view at the Monroe Regional Airport Gallery)
Rodrecas Davis is an Associate Professor of Art at Grambling State University. Escapism: Places & Spaces is a small series of work the Masur Museum of Art commissioned for his exhibition at The Gallery at Monroe Regional Airport. Davis’ rich visual language deals with themes of travel, escape, and black identity using, African folk tales, Hip Hop, Jazz, and other references. His bold color palette and crisp silhouettes create empowering energy that invites visitors and travelers at the airport to consider their motivations for traveling, as well as their worth.
Rodrecas Davis: Artist Statement
The works created for the show have multiple points of origin: a consideration of the actual physics of flight, an African folktale and the literary work of Toni Morrison.
In the strictest sense, a fight is about breaking the bonds of gravity in order to claim a semblance of freedom. This came to mind when planning pieces to best inhabit an airport. Flight and freedom, in a contemporary sense, are class-based activities. These threads are also woven into the narrative of the African Diaspora. Via the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, a folktale with origins in the Igbo people speaks of the people who could fly. It’s a throughline in several feature films dealing with the effects of African slavery. As told in Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly American Black Folktales,
“They say the people could fly. Say that long ago in Africa, some of the people knew magic. And they would walk upon the air like climbin’ upon a gate. And they flew like blackbirds over the fields. Black, shiny wings flappin’ against the blue up there.”
This version is reiterated in Haile Gerima’s Sankofa. In Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, the alternate telling centers on enslaved Africans claiming their liberty and walking across the water back to Africa. In both instances, it is the power of faith and self-actualization that allows one to “fly free”. This literal, and figurative flight is represented by the recurring birds in the works The King – Fego (Fly Upwards), The Queen – Fego (Fly Upwards), The Group – Ijeoma (Farewell), and The Flock – Fenaba (Fly Home). Seven birds, and seven steps to heaven.
The companion pieces created for this show (Stamps Paid) are based, in part, on a character from Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The character Stamp Paid resonates with me for two reasons. 1) He chose his name, as an act of self-determination and freedom, and 2) his purpose was to act as a ‘liberation agent’; he ferried souls along the Underground Railroad into a new existence. Whenever I receive a piece of metered postage, I always think of that character and how the stamps on packages are also manifestations of a type of boundless freedom. In particular, the stamps used in these works feature images of people of African and Indigenous descent that were pioneering liberation agents in their own right. Their personage is the foundation for the elevation of many.
Lastly, while all of the works are influenced by music, the title of the exhibition is a contraction of two specific songs; one by James Brown and the other by Jazz musician Donald Byrd. Both recordings are staples in Hip Hop culture, itself a type of liberation agent and both deal with self-actualization and migration as a means of catalyzing change and claiming power. It is those notions I hope to convey in these works. Looking onward, and upward, and finding oneself elevated.
Down here on the ground, Watching sparrows fly…
-“Down Here on the Ground” (Lyrics by Lou Rawls)
About the Alt Ex Program:
We are rolling out a public art initiative with the goal of putting more great arts entertainment and education front and center in Northeast Louisiana. Called Alt-Ex, short for Alternative Exhibitions, the initiative will feature pop-up exhibitions, small-scale public art projects, and off-site artist demonstrations. The first Alt-Ex project is currently on view at the Outside Gallery adjacent to Art Alley downtown. Follow the Masur Museum of Art on Instagram @masurmuseum and on Facebook @masurmuseumofart for more information.